Environmental and financial building costs have been in an upward spiral for decades, with no end in sight. One way to fight this trend is to use green construction materials and methods whenever possible. They offer many advantages over traditional approaches.
When viewed as a whole, green construction materials offer significant financial benefits when compared to traditional components. This is true for the following reasons:
- Green materials are often recycled or reclaimed from other projects, avoiding initial production fees.
- They make it easier to conform to building codes, which are becoming increasingly stringent across the nation. This reduces or eliminates costly delays in obtaining permits and passing inspections.
- Many green materials are becoming less expensive every day, due to increased production and improved fabrication methods. The exact opposite is true of more traditional products.
- Major cities such as Chicago, as well as states like New York, are offering bonuses and other incentives to spur the development of building projects that incorporate green materials and methods into their makeup.
Enhanced Health, Productivity, and Well-Being
The hazards of using traditional materials in construction are well-documented. Not the least of these is the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have a proven association with increased cancer risks and other health problems.
Green products are free of such contaminants. For example, wheat straw can be formed into sheets that perform the same function as plywood, without the use of formaldehyde. Vinyl-free floor coverings don’t contain that substance’s many toxins.
Being guided by such facts in selecting construction materials offers many benefits. It enhances the overall environment in the completed structure, leading (in the case of commercial buildings) to more productive employees, and (in the case of residential dwellings) to healthier, more physically active occupants.
Also, green construction materials go hand in hand with environmentally friendly building designs and methods, which incorporate natural light sources, open spaces, and brighter surroundings. All of these elements are associated with enhanced health and greater happiness. They have considerable payoffs for employers, builders, health care providers, and society at large.
Achieving These Benefits
In order to reap the rewards of using green materials and methods, a commitment to using them must be made from the project’s onset, even prior to obtaining the first general construction permit. The engineers, architects, consultants, and other professionals should be well-versed in environmentally friendly building methods. They should work together to ensure that every possible sustainable method is taken advantage of. For example, water systems should be designed to collect and use local rainfall as much as possible.
Site Choice Criteria
Choosing an appropriate location for the project involves numerous considerations. Some of the factors that could disqualify a particular choice include:
- The nearby presence of endangered species.
- The site’s cultural or historical significance.
- The need to deforest large areas, significantly alter the landscape, or disrupt the local ecosystem in any major way, such as altering the course of waterways or draining wetlands.
Determining that the land shouldn’t serve another purpose, such as agricultural production or providing recreational opportunities, is also an essential part of this stage of the project. While these considerations might limit the choice of sites, they will help ensure that the final structure is an asset to the surrounding environment, not a detriment to it.
Traditional architecture has done far too little to consider the effect of local resources such as sunlight and wind on the shape the completed structure should take. For example, air conditioning bills are affected by the predominant breezes in the area. Areas free of existing trees can incorporate natural sunlight into structures better than can locations in valleys or those with significant overhead vegetation cover.
A long, narrow structure is well-suited to making the most of prospects for solar power generation. Locating fixed structures, like stairwells, in the building’s interior zones can leave room for work areas to receive a greater share of natural light.
Planting and Landscaping
Eco-friendly structures incorporate vegetation choices into their overall design. For example, traditional lawns require maintenance by gas-driven lawn mowing equipment and the use of pesticides. They provide little in return other than conformance to cultural norms. Alternative plants such as Dutch clover, on the other hand, have a pleasing appearance, require little or no upkeep, and provide food for wildlife.
As much as possible, the choice of plants, shrubs, and trees must be determined by what is native to the local environment. For example, arid regions are home to drought-resistant plant species that flourish on minimal water, greatly reducing or even eliminating the need for such intrusive methods as installing sprinkler systems. A green landscaping plan will take such factors into consideration.
Modern building automation developments offer significant benefits for minimizing waste and should be incorporated into the structure as much as possible. Motion detectors can switch off lights in unoccupied rooms. Individualized climate control systems can limit heating and cooling to areas of the building where people are present. HVAC systems that use green refrigerants avoid the damage to the ozone layer caused by CFCs. In addition, wind turbines and solar panels should furnish as much of the building’s power needs as possible.
Burnham Nationwide Can Help With Your Green Building Project
We can provide you with the assistance of a LEED accredited professional to advise you on all aspects of eco-friendly building materials and methods. This will help ensure that your completed structure will benefit from as much as possible from all applicable certifications and incentives. Get in touch with us today, and put our expertise and experience to work for you.